It’s too easy to hand wring or blame banking bonuses or shrug and blame women for taking time off work to have children. But working in insurance recruitment over the past 10 years there have been so many instances of inflexible workplaces that lose skilled and motivated staff because they don’t fit the Monday to Friday pattern.
Overcoming this challenge not only helps unlocks the gender pay gap. It also creates a happier, more productive, motivated team.
Government figures show that there isn’t a large gender pay gap at the start of women’s careers. It is never higher than 2.4% for full time workers up to the age of 39. But it shoots up to 14% for 40 to 49 year-olds and never recovers.
This coincides with the period in which families are begun and parents are most likely to want to work part-time. This has traditionally fallen to women; a 2015 study found that only 16% of women aged 25 to 49 without dependent children worked part-time. For women of the same age with children this more than triples to 52%.
The concerning thing that happens to many at the same time is that employers assume their career ambitions withered during childbirth, and that senior roles can only be performed by people in a nine to five office job.
But there are women who are testament to the skills and technical knowledge that the industry can retain – or lose – if it mandates a physical presence within prescribed hours.
One broker went on maternity leave as an appointed representative with her own book of clients and wanted to work part time when she returned. The only option open at the firm she left for part-time work was as an account handler. But reduced responsibility and reduced salaries shouldn’t be the only path. She choose instead to works hours that suits her and has a growing and profitable roster of clients.
Another broker was an operations director and account executive. She was approached by many firms who recognised her skills, knowledge and client relationships during maternity leave and beyond. But none of them had the mechanisms to offer flexible work. They missed out on an employee who can support her clients and fit it around her home life and routine. She works from home around the school run and fits in client and colleague meetings when she needs to.
A third, who is an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute and worked for a corporate for several years was out of work after starting a family as she could not find a flexible role that used her vast technical knowledge. She is now working in a hybrid account executive – account handler role, growing her own book and working in collaboration to support those of colleagues.
Why have so many traditional and larger brokers missed out on these talents? Some of it is plain infrastructure constraints. It’s the computer systems and software that simply cannot be accessed remotely, rendering home working impossible.
Some of it is cultural. A conservative lack of trust that wants people to be visible at their desks and an old-fashioned need for control.
But when employers require people to work at their desks, they gain their physical presence, but can rob them of autonomy. One ACII qualified broker with decades of experience had to ask the company director’s permission to visit clients. The lack of trust this conveys is demotivating to say the least.
Being in charge of their own work schedule and choosing to work part-time is something that suits many mothers. But it’s also a path that many mums would rather not take, and which dads would like to share. An NCT survey showed that 55% of mothers returning to work would ideally have both partners sharing childcare and housework responsibilities equally.
Flexible working – whether for childcare, granny care, part-retirement or lifestyle – is shown to improve productivity. A 2017 YouGov survey of British businesses and their employees found that 89% considered flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity. And a study published in the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management showed that flexible working hours improved employee performance.
While flexible working is in high demand, qualified commercial insurance brokers are too. Some people, at some points in their career, want to work flexibly or part time. This shouldn’t be confused with reduced ambition and drive. To do so is to turn your back on some hugely talented and qualified professionals when the industry needs them more than ever.